Monday, May 05, 2008

Vice Laws

Two recent news stories offer an all too saddening glance at our society’s futile and misguided attempt to regulate behavior through vice laws. Although both of these stories are being treated as tabloid / human interest fodder, they have a great deal to say about our drug and prostitution laws. None of it is good.

The first case is the arrest of Susan Febvre, who had been on the run for over thirty years after escaping from a Michigan prison. She had been facing a twenty year sentence for selling heroin. In her time out of prison, she has from all appearances completely reformed, going on to raise a middle class family and get involved in community organizations.

Now she’s being sent back to prison for nineteen years, for things that happened in the seventies…

The second case is that of the “D.C. Madam,” Norma Jean Palfrey, (One of the most disgusting aspects of the media’s treatment of these cases is their salacious focus on sex while ignoring the human aspects), who committed suicide at her mother’s house in Florida. She was facing sentencing on prostitution charges, which could potentially have carried up to fifty years in prison, although it would more likely have been six years.

Two families thrown into chaos, all because our government wants to protect people from their own decisions.

Surely I am not the only one who sees the waste in all this. Not just of individual lives, but of society’s resources. When you put a drug offender or someone in the sex trade in prison, you take up space that could hold a violent offender. That is part of the reason we have so many incidents with violent criminals being paroled and then killing people.

This is not to glamorize the drug or sex trades. Having lived in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, I have seen the horrible effects drugs can have on individuals, and the degradations prostitution can inflict upon women, not to mention the potential for spreading disease.

However, this is the result of individual choices, which should be left up to the individual, not to society. Indeed, many of the vices which are legal in our society, such as smoking, alcohol, and gambling, have their own negative effects. If we were to follow the logic we use for drugs and prostitution, these two would be illegal.

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